Saturday, March 13, 2004

The oh so conveniently placed slippery slope argument

This post over at The Volokh Conspiracy pretty much demonstrates to me the ease with which otherwise intelligent people can slip up while trying to employ the slippery slope argument. Eugene Volokh indirectly argues that an assault weapons ban may lead to the banning of kitchen knives, sharp sticks, etc. (I overstate for comedy.) But upon closer examination the slippery slope argument as used here, and in general, is surprisingly weak.

The whole crux of the slippery slope argument is that if you believe that a particular weapon should be banned, that the very same logic would lead you to continue expanding the scope of weapons to ban with no logical limit. This is just a kind of reductio ad absurdum. The problem is that to make it, you must understand the logic of those with whom you disagree. Here, Volokh fails miserably as many others do.

The logic of those with whom you disagree is necessarily a foreign country. Slippery slope arguments require that you cast your vision into that land and see that, were you to abandon the current front and accept their logic, no natural arguments would stand between you and silliness. Bad metaphor? Probably. The point is that it’s not enough to take one line of thought for a weapons ban and show that it leads to unworkable calamity. You have to prove it for all lines of thought. Supposedly, there are many logical arguments for an assault weapons ban and unless you are familiar with every single one, a slippery slope argument amounts to nothing. People rarely bother explaining the nuance in their position; pro assault weapon ban people are rarely called upon to defend people’s rights to have swords. For this reason, would-be slippery slope arguers sometimes assume that the opposition doesn’t have any subtlety.

This particular example of slippery slope is especially hilarious because unless Eugene believes that all US citizens should be allowed to have nuclear weapons he has already drawn a rather complicated logical line in the sand. It seems pretty complicated to me since the line lies between assault weapons and WMDs. Maybe that’s why he’s trying to maintain plausible deniability. Since he probably hasn’t actually explained his line of logic I could just as easily apply the slippery slope argument, explaining that if we aren’t allowed to ban assault weapons that we are logically forced to allow private nukes.

I will take this time to explain the nuance in the pro weapons ban position. Since we can’t allow people carte blanche to own any kind of weapon (i.e. nuclear, biological), and we equally well cannot bar all weapons (i.e. sharpened sticks and heavy rocks) we must come up with a admittedly subtle but nevertheless distinguishable criteria for which weapons should be banned and which shouldn’t. There. Did you like that?


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